Problem Recovery, the Maslow Hotel Way

A few weeks ago, in the middle of a two-day workshop, I witnessed a really great “service recovery” experience from a potentially bad incident at the Maslow Hotel in Johannesburg. If anyone ever doubted that recovering well from problems does create a real “wow,” then read on.

Picture this scene – it’s a busy Thursday night and the lounge/bar is packed with guests and conference delegates. On the table next to us, a group of guys were getting into the swing of it with beers, burgers and other snacks. As the waiter approached with a tray of food and drinks, he tripped over a bag and everything noisily flew through the air and onto the floor, including a large pot of tomato sauce which splattered all over the clean white shirt of one unfortunate patron at the table, (much to the mirth and amusement of his colleagues.) But he was clearly not at all happy, and he was also embarrassed.

At this point, the manager rushed up, and after apologising profusely immediately organised free replacement food and drinks. He cleverly asked the unfortunate tomato-sauce-sprinkled customer to come away with him – thus removi9ng him from the awkward situation, and a short while later the customer reappeared in a clean white shirt. At this stage he saw the funny side of what had happened, and within an hour or so his freshly-laundered and nicely-wrapped shirt, was brought back to him.

Of course, I’m always keen to observe good service experiences, and by now I was very interested to understand the whole thing. I asked the chap what had happened when he went with the manager. Apparently he was taken to one of the guest rooms, asked for his size, given an opportunity to clean up, and then within minutes they found a similar shirt, (I think it may have been from the uniforms worn by staff,) while the manager promised his own shirt would be quickly cleaned and ironed.

Both he and I could not believe they had overreacted like this, and that they had gone so far out of their way to be helpful. It wasn’t just the cleaning of the shirt, though. It was also that they had been so kind and generous about sorting out his anger and embarrassment, and also that they had without hesitation taken full responsibility for what had happened. We would both certainly be coming back.

But that wasn’t the end of it. The waiter came back later and told me that I also had a couple of drops of tomato sauce on the back of my shirt, (I hadn’t noticed them at all,) and then offered me exactly the same treatment! I was tempted to take advantage, but I told him this was completely unnecessary.

As I left much later, the same manager came up to me and apologised again, repeating the waiter’s offer and insisting on some form of compensation. I refused. The next morning, at tea time in the training session, they had laid out the most delectable tea with sandwiches and little cakes, and gave me a short handwritten note of apology.

What a brilliant example of outstanding service! Some of the lessons in this experience for me were:

  • As a minimum, the immediate response and the replacement of the food and drinks for the whole table, free of charge, with a decent and pleasing apology, was expected.
  • The hotel staff, however, made some very positive choices to turn the whole thing around…
  • First, recognising the customer’s discomfort and giving him a face-saving escape was very powerful.
  • Second, having a proactive plan to immediately replace the damaged clothes in something temporary and acceptable showed initiative that began long before the actual accident.
  • Third, the processes for urgently repairing the damage – washing and ironing the shirt in a time when most staff actually disappear to go home – and then delivering it better than its previous state can only impress people who saw what had happened.
  • Fourth, the confidence of the waiter who told me that I had also been affected in a small way by the spillage took some courage, a trait which most of us admire.
  • And finally, to overcompensate by arranging a very special (and probably expensive) tea the next morning as a sign of regret was symbolic of their utter commitment to customer care.

The hotel had a well thought-through contingency plan that anticipated that things will occasionally go wrong and accidents will happen, and every person working there had been properly trained and suitably led to ensure that it was relatively easy to provide legendary recovery from a problem which after all, happens quite regularly.

What other benefits are there apart from ensuring, even guaranteeing, that we would all be back one day? Stories like this are worth their weight in gold because they give people a chance to share their amazing experience with others. The word-of-mouth generated is really precious, and I couldn’t wait to write it up, use the social media, and tweet it as soon as I could. (As a further sign of how on the ball they are, someone from the hotel or head office had already replied to my tweet and thanks me by the next morning. And of course now you are also reading this.)

I understand that both the manager and the waiter involved were also publicly recognised and praised by their managers.

So, full marks to the executives of Maslow Hotel Johannesburg for a slick and efficient problem recovery process that truly delighted their customers, and particularly this cynical and jaded consultant who doesn’t experience such things often enough.


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